McIlroy and Woods take early leave


Between one thing and another, you can bet that whoever signed the appearance fee cheques here this week will feel like they’d have been better off snapping their pen in two.

Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods were on every poster, looked down from every billboard and smiled from every ticket in Abu Dhabi, yet both of them will have to find other business to attend to while the HSBC Golf Championship potters along without them.

They each came across kooky and interesting ways to miss the cut here, splashing a little intrigue onto the face of a tournament that was heading for the weekend with not a whole lot to say for itself.

To McIlroy first and the ongoing travails of his Fresh Equipment Hell. He overshot the cut with plenty of room to spare, his second successive 75 snipping his week’s work off on a Friday night for the first time since last year’s US Open.

Putter talk

It was his first missed cut in a regular tour event since the Dunhill Championship in South Africa way back in December 2008, as well as the only time in their careers to date that he and Woods have missed the cut at the same tournament. Yet nobody was particularly interested in these little factoids afterwards. All anyone wanted to talk about was his putter.

A week that had begun with him doing his best to avoid a question about whether he had the option of using his old Scotty Cameron putter if he so wished ended with him answering it without answering it out loud. After an opening round on Thursday where he had consistently left his putts short, he decided overnight to revert to the one with which he had such a stellar year in 2012. The problem as he saw it was one of weight – the slower greens here than the ones he’d been used to practising on with his new Nike Method putter apparently requiring a heavier blade. So just like that, the swoosh stayed in the locker.

Little bit heavier

“I just wanted to try it because I felt like I didn’t get anything to the hole yesterday. I just felt like it was a little quick for these greens. The greens aren’t particularly quick here so I just felt like the one I put in today was a little bit heavier and I felt like I could get the ball to the hole. I wouldn’t look too much into it – it’s the first week out. If anything, it’s more the Indian than the arrow at this point.”

His manager Conor Ridge wasn’t overly perturbed either. Certainly, if there’d been any less-than-thrilled communiqués from his new Nike overlords at the abandoning of their marque putter after just one round, it wasn’t outwardly weighing on either of them. “Rory even said himself at the start of the week that it was going to be an unknown,” said Ridge.

“Going into tournament play versus what he was doing on the range. To be honest, he said himself – he didn’t play well yesterday. And he hasn’t played well today. I think if he had 14 Titleist clubs in his bags yesterday and today, it would have been exactly the same.”

McIlroy is sticking around in Abu Dhabi for the weekend to put down some sessions with his coach Michael Bannon. As it happens, he was actually the first rat on the range at dawn yesterday morning despite not having a tee-time until just past midday. He won’t play another tournament for a month now – the WGC Matchplay tournament in Arizona is the next one circled in his calendar – and he’ll spend the next week in Dubai trying to iron out some kinks.

As for Woods, he will already be back in Florida this morning. His missed cut was a sorry tale – a two-shot penalty having been applied at the end of his round due to a rule infraction all the way back on the fifth hole. Having hit his approach through the green, he found that his ball had become embedded in the sand/vegetation off the back of it. He called playing partner Martin Kaymer over to have a look and when Kaymer agreed that it was embedded, they both assumed that this meant a free drop. Not so, according to European Tour Chief Referee, Andy McFee.

“The embedded ball rule is for a closely-mown area only,” explained McFee. “There’s a note to that rule which all major tours in the world use, which extends embedded ball relief through the green but that is very specific in that it says in ground rather than in sand. So wherever you are, you do not get a relief for a ball which is embedded in sand and that’s just a bad lie and you have to play it.”

Essentially Woods had to take a seven for the par-four fifth because neither he nor Kaymer were sufficiently up on the rules. They didn’t call for a referee because they figured Woods was allowed to just pick up the ball and take relief. It seemed a bizarre and weirdly cavalier mistake to make.

Penalty shots

Having begun the day at level par, he’d already bogeyed three of the first four holes. Although he rallied on the back nine and posted four birdies to – he thought – get himself back inside the cutline, those two penalty shots cost him his place on the weekend.

“I thought my ball was embedded so I called Martin over,” explained Woods. “He agreed, he thought it was embedded too. Evidently, it’s sandy based and doesn’t call for an embedded ball out there. So Andy gave me a penalty there and I missed the cut.”

Ho-hum. Simple as that. Lift a ball, drop a couple of shots, fire up the jet and head for home. Meanwhile, various ad executives around the world bang their heads against their desks at the loss of the two most famous golfers on the planet.

Pesky old sport with its unpredictable ways.

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